A Big Flop Under the Big Top

Under the Big Top at the Big Apple Circus

Under the Big Top at the Big Apple Circus

Cue the organ music, bright lights, enthusiastic ring leader…and the incredibly sad horses. My sister was in town a few weeks ago and wanted to take my nephew to the circus. I agreed and then at the last minute I started to freak out that this may be one of the circuses that has horrendous animal abuse issues. I frantically searched Google for the Big Apple Circus and nothing came up for animal cruelty. They only use horses and dogs, and they claim they treat them fairly. So, I went – for my nephew and sister – but when the horses came out, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly sad for them. My other sister was sitting next to me and she leaned over and said, “You seemed really upset when the horses were performing.” I couldn’t hide it, and like usual wore my emotions on my sleeve. It’s a 40-foot ring with 6 horses doing tricks within this small space. It just didn’t seem natural. After reading about the animal abuse that takes place at Ringling Brothers, I was slightly skeptical that similar things could happen with the Big Apple but not to the public’s knowledge.

Oddly enough, the next day I started getting berated via email by protesters against the circus. Oh my gosh, how did they know that I went to the circus? They must think I’m an evil person. Then I read past the subject line and realized that the email was talking about Ringling Brothers, who was also in Atlanta that same week. I’ve pasted below the email that was sent to me about a dozen times throughout the day from different people, along with the pictures.

Dear Circus Supporter,
As you may know, The Ringling Bros Circus will be in your area next week and you will likely see locals protesting there. I’m writing to ask you to consider boycotting anything to do with Ringling Bros Circus because they treat their animals with documented horrific cruelty. Most of these animals are in constant agony. Ringling subjects all their animals to brutal “training” – including their baby elephants. Bears, elephants, tigers, lions and other animals do not voluntarily ride bicycles, stand on their heads, balance on balls, or jump through rings of fire. They don’t perform these and other difficult tricks because they want to; they perform them because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t. For animals in Ringling’s circus, there is no such thing as “positive reinforcement” — only varying degrees of punishment and deprivation.

Neither child nor adult should be giving a single dollar to Ringling Bros. because they will use it to buy stun guns, whips, electrical prods and bullhooks to torture their animals with until they comply. For your entertainment. This is nothing less than slavery. I know you wouldn’t want to be part of such horrific treatment of innocent and magnificent animals, nor would you help fund their suffering if you knew that’s what you were money was used for.


–For dozens of cruelty violations between 2007 and 2011, Ringling paid the USDA $270,000 for failure to comply with humane treatment laws. This is the largest penalty ever assessed against an exhibitor for animal cruelty. Violations include:

Failure to provide adequate veterinary care to animals, including an elephant with a large swelling on her leg, a camel with bloody wounds, and a camel injured on train tracks.
Endangering tigers who were nearly baked alive in a boxcar because of poor maintenance of their enclosures.
Failure to test elephants for tuberculosis.

–At least 29 elephants, including four babies, have died since 1992, including an 8-month-old baby elephant named Riccardo who was destroyed after he fractured his hind legs when he fell from a circus pedestal. In 2004, a 2 year-old lion died of apparent heatstroke while the circus train crossed the Mojave Desert.

PLEASE PLEASE boycott Ringling Bros. and those businesses supporting them- no matter where they are or what they are doing in your town. It’s a simple and moral way to stand up for what’s good and right. The circus is slavery. The animals could go free if nobody came to see them. http://emptyallcages.com/2013/01/14/circus-animal-cruelty-make-the-connection/

Since I’ve been eating a vegan diet, I’ve been more aware of animal abuse and cruelty happening around the world. I’ve been engulfed with reading books and watching documentaries about it. Previously, though, I thought I knew a good deal about animal abuse due to watching documentaries about the slaughterhouses years ago. It turns out I was wrong and I knew very little about other major issues happening around the world. So, I responded to this person’s email in order to get more information about the circus and animal cruelty:

I recently received an email from you about protesting the circus.  I’m not sure how I got on the list of your organization (I received 3 different emails from 3 different people this morning), but I’m glad I received your email.  I was recently researching this topic, and I find it repulsive what they do to these poor, harmless animals.

The Big Apple Circus is in town and only uses horses and dogs, and they seem to be fair to their animals based on the different news articles I read online.  The thing is, though, it just doesn’t seem right to have 6 horses in a 40 foot ring.  I couldn’t find anything on abuse with the Big Apple Circus, and I was wondering if you had any information about them or if they really are a fair circus.

I support your cause and appreciate what you’re doing to help the innocent animals.

And this was her response back:

Thank you for your response. We are activists doing a year long campaign against The Cruelest Show on Earth- Ringling. We’re “email leafleting” to cities one week prior to their arrival. Every city, all year. I got your email from searching randomly in your city. Today is schools and students so you’re likely one of those. I’m sorry to say that any circus with animals is a bad place. First and foremost they are slaves who need to be free. I was at a UniverSoul Circus protest this weekend looking at where the elephants ” live.” It was just a semi truck with the side rolled up, with tent stalls attached to it. So they stay in the truck, get decorated in the stall, perform and back in the trucks. Then on the road to the next place. They also did an act with a tiger suspended from the ceiling. I’m sure he was terrified. Again, thank you so much, we hope for responses like yours in all the hearts of the people we contact!!!

I felt pretty bad about going to the Big Apple Circus after reading that. Why can’t they just focus on acts like this one pictured below? The stunts that involved people were my favorite part of the whole circus.
Acrobat at Big Apple

Acrobat at Big Apple

This is so corny of me to say, but the more you know, the more you grow. And I have definitely grown from reading the literature and watching the films about animal abuse. I’ve been reading The Bond by Wayne Pacelle, which has been an extraordinary read about the kindness of animals as well as our abusive history with them. Wayne Pacelle put it exactly how I’ve been feeling lately:

It reminded me that I live immersed in a world where animal cruelty is a familiar topic, but that many people have scarcely heard of the problems of animal cruelty, much less our campaigns against them.

After learning more about this depressing topic, I tried to balance it out by watching the documentary titled Born to be Wild. Sometimes it feels as if animal cruelty outweighs the animal love from humans, but this movie does a nice job of illustrating the fact that there really are people in this world who have an undying love for animals and are making their own lives about protecting them. Now, that’s aspiring and a lovely way to live this life.

41 thoughts on “A Big Flop Under the Big Top

  1. Dear Amateur Vegan. Thank you for sharing your feelings. I just wish there were more people like you. World would be a much better place to live. Every vegan or someone who want to be one feels more compassion towards animals. I have pets: dogs and cats and they are part of my family. I love them a lot. You must love all animals if you hate their abuse. This makes you one great compassionate person. I am vegan as well. Thank you again for being you and sharing this with us.


    • Thank you so much! I have always been an animal lover, but never knew the reality of the abuse they endure. As long as we have people like you to make this world a better place, everyone and every animal will have a better hope for a peaceful future.


  2. A pleasure to read somebody wanting to live a more spiritual way of living. I have been animal rights my entire life and I am always learning. More today we are losing our rights to protect our animals. Unconstitutional A.E.T.A bill that prevents us from having freedom of speech. Ag gag orders that prevent whistle blowers from exposing animal cruelty. Very honored to have you on the animals side and SPEAKING out. Thank you


  3. Anything going on under the big top is always a big flop, and I thank you for pointing it out to everyone who reads your blog. The amount of cruelty the circus animals must endure on a day to day basis is something, once you see, you will never forget. Bringing awareness to the people is the only way we have of closing them down.


  4. I am glad that you are a type of person that took the time to listen. We have gotten so many people that use the line, flooding our inbox is not a good way to get your point across. You are proof that it doesn’t matter how many people tell you the same thing in the end its up to you to listen. Thank you so much for caring and also you wrote a lovely article. Keep up the great work! 🙂 #wearetheirvioce


  5. I read all you wrote and I think you are in the right path. Someone taught that going to the circus was good and funny. That someone was also taught like that. It was not your fault that you were mistaken. If you’d know it’s wrong and you’d still do it, then you would not be a good person.
    So, learning is very important, and you must search for knowledge yourself in order to know more about animals, animal exploitation, about veganism and its philosophy. That way you’ll always understand what is wrong or right to do, even if someone has taught you differently. Keep going, your compassion and love is needed in this world. Never stop being vegan. Teach others and help to help animals. 🙂


  6. Like you, I choose not to attend circuses that use animals. I’m much more impressed by human artists that are able to perform stunts that are usually performed by traditional circus animals. In my hometown of Blackpool we had a circus under the tower for years. It was deicded that the circus should move to the Pleasure Beach and the animals be removed because it wasn’t fair to the animals to make them live in such cramped conditions. The human circus that is now at the Pleasure Beach is amazing. By coincidence, when I was a teenager I babysat for a woman who had worked at the Tower Circus when she was younger. Her job had been to walk the animals around town and along the beach. When I heard her talk about how much she’d enjoyed her job and her connection with the animals, it felt reassuring to know that they had at least one person looking out for their welfare.


    • Thank you for sharing! It’s nice to hear about the good happening in this world and the people making this positive impact. I’ve been to Cirque du Soleil which is amazing, and I’m glad there’s more entertainment like that around as an alternative to the animal circus.


  7. Thank you for your efforts and sharing your experience. Been a vegetarian for a few years before I could make the transition to vegan and became vegan last November. I haven’t been to a circus since I was a young child – not even one with domesticated animals like horses and dogs. Several years ago I read news stories of the atrocities to elephants and the big cats and knew I had to become one of the voices for the voiceless – they are depending on us to speak up as loud and often as we can, however we can, be it writing letters, blogging, talking to our friends and neighbors attending protests and so on.


  8. Good for you..sometimes an awakening to this horror just builds or just hits you.. Thank you for all your words and getting that extra push you needed to fully see the reality and use your senses to connect beyone the norm, and out of love. It becomes so obvious when you look into the animals eyes and body language.


  9. Thank you so much for your article. It is very sincerely and beautifully expressed and a wonderful way to make people aware. I related to it very well because in the mid nineties I relented and took my son to a circus. I am glad that I did because it really showed me how cruel and sad circus’s are. My son also felt very sorry for the animals and never wanted to go to another circus.


  10. It was the discovery 5 years ago of the cruelty behind the circus tents that got me to go vegan. I just never questioned anything before — Now I question everything that has to do with our treatment of nonhumans. Wish I knew decades sooner!

    Thanks for eloquently expressing your awakening and your desire to live compassionately. 😉


  11. Im so very happy that you took the time to read the email and even happier that you listened to it and even took it a step further and blogged about it now even more people can be educated about the cruelties and abuse inflicted on animals in the circus Thanks for hearing our message and thenks even more for speaking out and spreading the word


    • Hi Florence – it’s the least I could do to blog about the animal abuse happening at the circus and all around us. Please let me know how else I can help to get the word out and spread your message. Or if there is a website I can direct people to if they want to get involved, that would be great as well. Thanks for all you do!


  12. Heartfelt thanks for reading my post at Free Little Words. This post is truly an eye-opener and although my children have never been to a circus I don’t think I could ever take them now.


    • Thank you so much for reading my blog too! It is sad about the circus and I truly wish this abuse would stop. You could take your kids to an all human circus as an alternative. The acrobats are pretty amazing!


      • I’ve been to Cirque a few times. When they are older I will take them to their amazing shows. At the moment they are too young to even sit still through the while thing let alone appreciate the show/cost.


  13. Pingback: Reflecting on 2013 and a Meatless Monday Recipe: Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash | Running on Vegan

  14. Pingback: Getting Over My Nerves Long Enough to Participate In My First Protest | Our Hen House

  15. Pingback: “Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone.” | Running on Vegan

  16. I’m so glad I found your post! My second grade daughter is supposed to be having a field trip to Big Apple Circus in June. It will be an all-day event and I am the only mom in the whole second grade (made up of six 20+student classes) who will not let my daughter attend. I have asked the school what will be made available for her as an alternative on that day and have not received a response. My daughter understands (because I have explained) that it is not natural to force animals to perform for people and that it is unkind. She chooses not to go on this trip. (We are also a mostly vegetarian household.) We have many zoos and animal preserves in our area and I wish my school had chosen one of these options, instead of the circus. It’s troubling that I am the only one of more than 100 parents in my district who refuses to support the circus. I would also prefer an all human circus — the acrobats are truly amazing on their own. Without the need to subjugate animals.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good for you for sticking up for what you and your daughter believe is right. I know sometimes it feels like you’re alone in this fight to end animal cruelty, but just know that there are tons of people out there that are like-minded in their views. I hope you get a response from the school, but don’t let it discourage you if you don’t hear from them. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Please let me know if you need help with anything or just want someone to talk to! 🙂


  17. Pingback: Hello, Again | Running on Vegan

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s